On the sixth day of this month, the month of Sivan, we celebrate the holiday of Sha-vu-ot. In biblical times Sha-vu-ot was celebrated as an agricultural holiday. There is no reference in the Bible which connected Sha-vu-ot with any historical event, including the giving of the Torah. On the contrary, the three names given to this holiday in the Torah point to the centrality of agriculture in the celebration of this lovely holiday.
The first name Sha-vu-ot meaning 'weeks,' refers to the seven weeks of the count from Pesach to the day of the holiday (Dt. 16:9), thereby connecting the holiday with the end of the spring cyclical celebrations. The second name is Chag Ha-ka-tzir 'the harvest festival' (Ex 23:16) pointing to the first harvest after Pesach. And the third is Yom Ha-bi-ku-rim 'the day of the first fruits' (Num 28:26), referring to the first crops of the fields after Pesach. Since agriculture is the focus of the celebration of Sha-vu-ot, let us direct our attention to the phrase pri ha-a-da-ma 'the fruit of the earth.'
It is a Jewish custom to bless God for the food we eat and drink. For example, before we drink wine, we bless God acknowledging that He is bo-reh pri ha-ga-fen 'the Creator of the fruit of the vine.' And when we eat vegetables, fruits or any kind of greens we bless God with the words: boreh pri ha-a-da-ma 'the Creator of the fruit of the earth.' The word pri which means 'fruit,' 'product,' 'profit,' and 'interest,' is derived from the root p.r.h meaning 'bear fruit,' fertilize,' and 'fecundate.' In the Bible pri generally means 'fruit.' For example, pri ah-etz means 'fruit of the tree' (Gen 1:12), and pri ha-beten means 'fruit of the womb' namely 'children' (Gen 30:2). Also, pri means 'one's labor' as in pri ya-de-ha, literally 'the fruit of her hands' (Prov 31:31). Later, in the Mishnah pri meant also 'income,' or 'interest from investments,' (Tosefta Pe-ah 1:20). There are many phrases in Modern Hebrew where pri is at the center. We will mention here pri ha-dim-yon means 'fruit of the imagination,' 'a fantasy,' and pri ha-et 'the fruit of the pen, namely 'literary contributions.'
As for a-da-ma, in Genesis tradition it meant 'ground,' 'soil,' 'earth,' or 'land.' A-da-mah is probably derived from adom meaning 'red' denoting the red color of the arable ground and connected to dahm meaning 'blood.' In the biblical tradition the first human being was created from the a-da-mah hence was called Adam. Adam also refers to all humanity (Gen 5:2). Interestingly, in English as well, the word 'human' is derived from the Latin humus meaning 'ground' or 'soil.'
On sha-vu-ot let us bless Pri ha-a-da-mah acknowledging that it is not pri ha-dim-yon, 'a fantasy' we celebrate on this lovely holiday, but rather, pri ya-dey-nu the fruit of our labor. Chag Sa-me-ach.
Professor Rachel Zohar Dulin teaches Hebrew and Bible at Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies in Chicago.